Despite the sunny weather and green pastures of late June, it feels like Christmas. My gift box is the rusty yellow horse trailer towed by a dented, aged, blue Chevy pickup that has just turned into our ranch headquarters. When the truck pulls to a halt near our barn, the trailer keeps moving, rocking side to side from the agitated stomping of what’s inside: my mustangs.
You’ll notice that I’m saying mustangs in the plural here, which is not a typo. That’s because on the day nine months ago when I first entered the Cañon City penitentiary gates of my own free will, I was overcome with remorse. How could I take just one horse, exposing him to manage the rigors of joining a new band on his. It didn’t seem right.
In a fit of whimsy that was far too easy to rationalize, I I adopted two horses instead of one. “These are animals used to being in a herd,” I told myself. “They’ll be happier if they’re with their own kind.” That the two could never have met before because they were from different wild horse bands, didn’t sway me. The ranch horses were domestic, these two were wild. I imagined the latter would look down on the former as weaklings, not worth associating with, which would result in one thing only: your basic general mayhem….chunks of hide being bitten off, horses getting savaged by flying hoofs, suffering terrible ragged cuts from being run through barbed wire. Or all three.
When I surveyed the hundreds of horses at the penitentiary that autumn day, a horse conversation played through my mind. “Remember when we used to search for days for something good to eat?” one mustang would nicker to the other years from now, sharing memories like aged gentlemen on a park bench.
“Yeah, it was slim pickin’s out in that sage brush country,” the other would say.
“We sure lucked out.”
“Can you believe how much there is to eat here?”
“And we don’t even have to walk to get it. It’s right under our noses.”
Or maybe they’d reminisce fondly about mares they’d known.
“I wonder what happened to that pretty bay filly I used to hang out with.”
“Last I saw she was running in the opposite direction.”
“You sure about that? I could’ve sworn she was in the bunch I got rounded up with.”
“Nah. She was always a loner, never did like to follow the herd.”
At which they’d both drop their heads and continue grazing on what I know is the lushest, most savory pasture in the whole county.
Carol, the horse chauffeur, gets out of the truck, slams the door, then slams it again because it’s too dented to close well the first time. Her willingness to collect the horses and drive them here has saved me a fourth tedious, 8-hour trip to the penitentiary and back. Coming around the trailer, she walks stiffly with her hands in the small of her back, rolling her neck and twisting to get out the cricks. Black hair tumbles from the sweated, dusty cowboy hat snugged on her head. Her belly roll obscures the top of her too-tight Wranglers and her cowboy boots are down at the heel. She extends a friendly hand to each of us. “Long drive,” she says. “But a beautiful place you got here. Good place for horses.”